Campus & Community

The Big Picture

2 min read

Jack O’Kane, illustrated man

O'Kane Photo by Kris Snibbe

Harvard Police Officer Jack O’Kane got his first tattoo on a visit to Ireland from a guy named Danny Bullman, someone he says he’ll never forget.

“People don’t remember what they had for breakfast, but they’ll always remember their tattoo artist,” O’Kane said recently. “Tattoos are addictive. It’s the one piece of your physical appearance that you can control. I’ll never be 7 feet tall, but I can change my appearance with a tattoo.”

Since January, O’Kane has been helping others mold their appearances through visits to his Somerville tattoo parlor, The Painted Bird.

O’Kane, who has been on the Harvard Police Department since 1991, said he’s always been a fan of tattoos but the idea to open his own shop started with a casual conversation at a local gym with tattoo artist Jay Zube, who became O’Kane’s partner in the effort.

“I’ve always wanted to go into business for myself because I can’t be a police officer until I’m 100,” O’Kane said.

The two prepared together for seven months before The Painted Bird opened for business, and it looks like the work is paying off. Offering tattoos, piercings, and some body jewelry, the parlor has seen its business grow steadily, O’Kane said.

The Painted Bird, tucked into a Somerville strip mall, has a friendly feel, with a couch to wait on while a friend gets a tattoo and a television to watch a ball game or play a movie. And, though unusual stories of customers and odd or outright funny tattoos already abound, the pair has, on occasion, refused business when the work seems particularly ill-advised.

“We’ve turned tattoos away, we’ve turned piercings away,” O’Kane said. “It’s not worth compromising Jay’s and my reputation.”

Reputation is important not just for personal reasons, O’Kane said, but because word of mouth is critical if their business is to grow.

“Tattoos are a very personal decision. Many people say, ‘That’s a nice tattoo, where’d you get it?’ We made a decision early on that everyone would be happy going out.”